We’re going to go into a bit of detail on the frame simply because we want to show you what you get for the money and also highlight the difference between this and the other frames.
The E-120’s main frame is called a multi-monocoque, built from three monocoque elements that are joined using a ‘tube-to-tube’ process. Each piece consists of dozens of pieces of ‘pre-preg’, which is a material made up of individual sheets of unidirectional carbon fibres laid at various angles (0, 45 and 90 degrees) to one another. Depending on where the strength or stiffness is needed, Whyte uses different modulus of material, with varying mechanical and physical properties, or lighter material, to save weight where it can.
The swingarm is made in the same way using nine separate combinations of modulus and
orientation. There are 45 different-sized pieces and a total of 157 individual pieces go into making the swingarm, including a unidirectional cosmetic layer.
Both H-links are also full carbon, made by wrapping the composite over a PU insert and the two aluminium axles. The links aren’t any lighter than those used on a 120mm Marin but they’re stronger and more fatigue resistant, plus they come fitted with a full complement of pivot bearings, which are covered by a lifetime warranty.
Up front, the frame has an integrated headset with 11/8in upper bearings, but more durable 1¼in lower bearings. This is different from the set-up of the Specialized in that a spacer is used to pack out the steerer tube. It’s good to see a quick-release on the seat clamp, and even more so since it’s Whyte’s excellent Getta-Grip design, which is big and easy to operate, even with weak or small hands.
Jumping on the 15mm Fox after riding a standard F-120 with a quick-release axle, we noticed an increase in stiffness. The difference, though, was less noticeable when we switched to the Specialized — in fact we’d say the fork on the FSR tracks better. Whether the numbers add up is for a fork test, but the 15mm is easy to use and in theory offers the security and convenience of a 20mm but the light weight of a quick-release.
To match the 2009 specification, Whyte has fitted a 2009 Fox RP23 shock to the E-120. Being
sandwiched between the links means setting up the shock and even accessing the rebound dial and ProPedal lever is somewhat tricky, but it’s not impossible. The plus point is that the shock is shielded from mud and grime so should go for longer before it needs servicing.
Despite the Shimano XTR crankset, the E-120 isn’t as stiff in the bottom bracket area as the Cannondale, nor as stiff as the S-Works up front, although we’d say it was stiffer everywhere else compared to the flexy Fisher.
The groupset is all Shimano XTR except the Hope Mini Pro carbon brakes — these need setting up correctly with the XTR shifters because there is very little room on the inside of the lever blade to flick the shifter’s release lever.
It’s worth spending a lot of time getting the E-120 set up correctly because, like the Marin Mount Vision we tested back in February, it’s sag sensitive, meaning the suspension works best with 12-15mm of sag. Any more and the bike sits too deep in its stroke, feels harsh over square-edge rocks, and pedalling forces reduce rear wheel grip by pulling the wheel off the ground. This is particularly noticeable coming out of compression, where pedalling forces would lift us out of the saddle.
With the correct sag setting, the bike felt a lot more balanced and didn’t pitch forward, although with the shorter wheelbase and higher bottom bracket it never felt as stable as the other bikes on test. The extra half-inch of clearance meant we could keep pedalling over exposed roots or in those deep 4×4 ruts, and it even helped the bike tip into corners, improving the handling in the singletrack. But, in steeper, rocky terrain we felt more perched on the Whyte.
On flatter, flowing trails, like those at Grizedale, we could really get up a head of steam on the E-120, but we needed to work the steering and be more precise with body positioning to maintain grip, especially if it was wet or loose.
The bike is no slouch when it comes to smooth climbing, and the ProPedal lever is within reach should you want to stiffen the suspension for greater pedalling efficiency. It could do with being a slightly more compliant ride under pedalling to increase grip on the rougher ascents, but it was the best bike round those tight hairpins on the White’s Level climb at Afan.
One of the main problems we have is getting in a comfortable and efficient riding position. The top-tube measures 23in, but the short down-tube, high-ish bottom bracket and to some extent the slack seat angle meant we were sat too far back over the bottom bracket. Shunting the saddle forward on the rails is a solution, but it reduces cockpit room and makes the bike feel even smaller — one of the reasons we didn’t change the 90mm stem to a 70mm straight away. With the Gobi pushed back, it also meant we perched more on the nose of the saddle, which with this model proved really uncomfortable.